Thursday, December 15, 2011


Words:  Denis Kevans
Tune:  Bob Fagan

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Some leave a marble monument, or a statue made of brass
That stands in cold retirement, getting tickled by the grass
Some leave a passive portrait they’ve commissioned for a fee,
But no one comes to sculpt or carve, or paint a pic of me.

Don’t worry, I’ve been carved up by experts, not a few.

Subbies, foremen use their knives to carve a pound or two.

I’ve been sculpted by the cleaver winds that scream up in the struts.
I’ve been painted by the mud and slush in bogging rickshaw ruts

I am a kind of portrait if you could read between
The lines that mark my face with time and see just what they mean
The leagues and laughs and lands I've known, the years of wear and tear
No gypsy woman on the earth could glean the stories there.

From the mullock heavy rickshaw to the hook that rides with ease,
From the sucking clay caught shovel, to the steel walk in the breeze,
From the jack pick gun’s staccato to the steady chisel chip,

I’ve worked upon my monument in a life’s apprenticeship.

From the convict’s pickmarked alphabet in Hawkesbury River stone 
To where the dogman carves his name in the concrete rise alone 
From mud in acres poured and squared, to the bright mosaic eye, 
I’ve worked upon my monument, and build before I die.

I see your monuments displayed in cavalcades of war,
In lands where you make ashes from the courage of the poor. 
In little children hobbling down to drink from sorrow’s well 
Looking sadly at their faces, cut to bits by petrol gel.

I see your monuments displayed in smog polluted air.
To the wraiths of black shawled mountains, in the wake of ‘I don’t care’ 
In oil choked harbours, upturned fish, and nuclear sullied seas
In forests felled, and deserts made from songbird’s aviaries

You’ve had your chance, you’ve run the world your way, we know it’s true. 
Your monuments stick in my craw, the monuments to you.
We leave the cities of the world cemented with our sweat
The cemeteries of our youthful years, but we’re not beaten yet.

For there’s a living monument to all we’ve lived and learned
The green bans we’ve created, and the victories we have earned 
And one day when our cities are but dust upon the air
The pollen from our fighting hearts will bloom again somewhere.

Australia's "Poet Lorikeet", Denis Kevans (1939 - 2005) first published this poem in the new South Wales Builders Labourers Federation Journal in 1970.

The song (with Bob Fagan's tune) has been performed in Australia as part of shows about the Green Bans disputes in Sydney.  Over a period of four years in the 1970s, over 40 development projects were delayed in the Sydney area by a union which had decided in 1970 to adopt a principle of social benefit in determining where to exert their industrial muscle.  Projects which threatened natural or heritage values where subjected to Green Bans.

Follow this link for a lengthier discussion of the Green Bans:

1 comment:

  1. What a great song...never heard it sung before. More of Denis Kevans please; he collaborated (in song) with Seamus Gill more than once.